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Full text of "Beehives of Invention: Edison and his Laboratories"

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UMARtES 




Edison 

and His Laboratories 




BEEHIVES 

OF 

INVENTION 

Edison 

and His Laboratories 

by 

George E. Davidson 



National Park Service History Series 

Office of Publications 

National Park Service 

U.S. Department of the Interior 

Washington, D.C. 

1973 



Library of Congress catalog card number: 73-600079 



CONTENTS 

Folk Hero 1 

An Obsession to Create 7 
Crucibles of Creativity: The Labs 13 
He Made Science Serve 63 
Postscript: The Edison Sites 67 
Further Readings 69 



OLK HERO 

He hated the radio; he called it a "lemon." He had 
even less use for the electronic phonograph. In 
1925 he sounded the death knell for the Edison 
name in the home phonograph industry by saying 
he would stick with his mechanical device. After 
much stubborn hesitation, his company brought out 
an electronic phonograph in 1928. But it was too 
late. In 1929 the Edison company stopped manu- 
facturing entertainment phonographs and records. 
A last-minute venture into the mushrooming radio 
field failed soon afterwards. 

Thomas Alva Edison belonged to the 19th cen- 
tury. It was there, in the beginnings of America's 
love affair with technology, that the dynamic and 
sharp-tongued "country boy" from Milan, Ohio, put 
his extraordinary genius to work and achieved na- 
tional fame. In that age before the horseless carriage 
and wireless Thomas Edison made his remarkable 
contribution to the quality of life in America and 
became a folk hero, much like an Horatio Alger 
character. 

Edison's reputation stayed with him in the early 
20th century, but his pace of achievements slack- 
ened. At his laboratory in West Orange, N.J., in the 
1900's he did not produce as many important in- 
ventions as he had there and at his Menlo Park, 
N.J., lab in the late 1800's. Edison's projects 
and quests became expensive, costing millions 
and resulting in few rewards and profits. His 
forays into many fields were continuing evidence 
of a Da Vinci-like breadth of mind, but they 
were not financially successful, or, one suspects, 
personally satisfying. Besides some financial 
success with a battery, it was profits from the 
phonograph and motion picture innovations, both 
fruits of his work in the 19th century, that kept 
Edison solvent in those later years. 

His last major effort was devoted to finding a 
domestic source of rubber. When the British acted 
in 1924 to restrict the supply of Malayan raw rubber, 



Edison's camping caravan partners, Henry Ford 
and Harvey Firestone, pleaded with him to find a 
practical domestic source. A long-term rubber 
shortage might mean disaster for both tycoons of 
the motorcar world. Their plea was a godsend 
(perhaps not in Edisonian theology) to a bored and 
somewhat jaded inventor. Here was a problem he 
could tackle with the exhaustive empirical method 
that had made him the "Wizard of Menlo Park." To 
find the right tree or plant was going to be "search, 
try, and discard" all the way. This was not a task 
for theorists and mathematicians whom Edison 
scorned; this was a task which fit, to some degree, 
the Edison definition of genius as "ninety-nine per- 
cent perspiration and one percent inspiration." This 
was a task which required that rare Edison com- 
bination of imagination, brilliance, and dogged 
determination exemplified in his successful quest 
for a practical incandescent lamp in 1879. The man 
of practical physics and electrical engineering be- 
came a botanist almost overnight. Suddenly every- 
thing was rubber — at home and at the lab. The Old 
Man was happy. 

A new company, the Edison Botanic Research 
Corporation, was formed, and, with grants of $93,500 
each from Firestone and Ford, was on its way by 
the fall of 1927. Edison began this adventure at his 
Fort Myers, Fla., home and lab, where he custom- 
arily spent some of the winter. At both his Florida 
and New Jersey labs he put a new staff of bota- 
nists and chemists to work. He sent agents to 
every corner of the tropical and temperate zones 
to look for vines, bushes, trees, shrubs, and weeds 
that might hold latex juices. 

After two years Edison could report that he had 
tested more than 14,000 different plants of which 
about 600 contained latex to some degree. He be- 
lieved that goldenrod was the most promising and 
narrowed his focus to that weed of countless road- 
sides, abandoned lots, and rural fields across 
America. Edison felt that he was on the track of 
finding a source of domestic rubber that was "sow- 
able and mowable." He took the best varieties and 
began crossbreeding. In the end he developed a 
goldenrod variety about 14 feet tall and yielding 12 



As Henry Ford and 
Francis Jehl look on, 
Edison reenacts the mak- 
ing of the first successful 
incandescent lamp. The 
event took place in Dear- 
born, Mich., on October 
21, 1929, the 50th anni- 
versary of the lamp and 
the dedication of Edison's 
reconstructed Menlo Park 
laboratory. 




V 




percent latex. His goal was to produce 100 to 150 
pounds of rubber per acre of goldenrod. 

Little did he realize that his project was futile. 
He made rubber from goldenrod, and Firestone 
even made four tires out of it, but it was expensive 
rubber and of inferior quality. And meanwhile, 
German scientists were successfully producing a 
synthetic rubber from coal tars. 

If anyone, Ford and Firestone included, had any 
suspicions that Edison's experiments would not 
succeed, they didn't tell him. Edison probably would 
not have listened anyway. 

Thomas A. Edison was dying. He had been suffer- 
ing for years from diabetes, Bright's disease, and 
a gastric ulcer. Uremia almost took him in 1929, 
when he was 82. But, as always, he tried to work. 
When in bed, his assistants kept him informed of 
progress in the rubber experiments. 

In the summer of 1931 his afflictions brought him 
near death. He rallied for a short time, but he suf- 
fered a relapse and died on October 18. 

Edison was gone and with him an epoch in Amer- 
ican science and technology. He had been truly a 
"legend in his time." Medals, busts, and ribbons, 
Edison claimed bushels of them, including one 
from Congress. Henry Ford paid him perhaps the 
greatest tribute by reconstructing, in Dearborn, 
Mich., Edison's old Menlo Park lab with virtually all 
the paraphernalia — bulbs, dynamos, apparatus, 
machinery, materials, buildings — of his early years 
as an inventor. 

What kind of man was this hero of several gener- 
ations of Americans? He was not the saintly figure 
of the many bronze busts and news articles of his 
day. And yet he was much more than "just a coun- 
try boy" full of folksy sayings and homilies and the 
victim of urbane and unprincipled robber barons, 
the way he liked to picture himself. He survived 
and often triumphed in the patent quarrels, litiga- 
tion, and vicious infighting that were characteristic 
of those survival-of-the-fittest years. 

He had an uncanny knack for drama. P. T. Barnum 
could have learned something from Edison. The 
Old Man was a born promoter as well as creative 
genius, and, unlike many of his contemporaries, he 



was an attractive personality to much of America. 
He was handsome in a rugged way. He was a small 
town boy who had made good, and the folks of the 
day loved to see their ways of practicality and 
down-to-earth grit put the professors and foreigners 
to shame. Self education and the American back- 
water environment were, as in Abraham Lincoln's 
life, superbly vindicated in Edison. Through the 
newspapers, he prepared the people for greater 
things to come. And if the bluster and ballyhoo did 
not square with results and performance, as with 
his target date for a workable lighting-distribution 
system, the people did not seem to mind. 

The men who labored with and for this man of 
fantastic drive were smitten with the drama of 
science. They had to be. With what Edison paid, 
something else must have sustained them working 
twice as long each day as their deodorized, white- 
coated, 40-hour-a-week counterparts of the 1970's. 
They saw a side of the Old Man that the adoring 
public rarely viewed — profane, grossly unkempt, 
and with an uncertain temper. But there was a 
charisma about the man that inspired loyalty and 
sacrifice. 

Science and technology became America's new 
frontier during the most creative and dynamic years 
of Edison's life. It was no coincidence. 







N OBSESSION TO CREATE 
Thomas Edison was not born to a life of ease. He 
was pre-Civil War, small town, middle-class Amer- 
ica. He may have been a genetic accident, for his 
precursors showed little of the potent drive or 
sponge-like mental powers of the boy who devoured 
the Detroit Free Library with only three months of 
school learning. 

Financial insecurity was a way of life to the Edison 
family. To his mother, Edison attributed the "mak- 
ing of me." To his ne'er-do-well father, who once 
beat him and shamed him unmercifully in the town 
square, he displayed great generosity and affection 
in his later life. 

Drive he had from the earliest — enormous power 
to resist physical and mental fatigue and a single- 
mindedness that more "well-adjusted" folk could 
never sustain. By his teens he was operating a 
lucrative business of his own by selling newspapers 
and goodies to passengers on the Grand Trunk 
Railroad in Michigan. His very youthful fascination 
for chemistry persisted in the lab-on-wheels he 
made in the corner of a stuffy and creaking bag- 
gage car. 

During his teens he became nearly totally deaf 
by accident or illness. When he began a new career 
as a telegrapher at 16, the deafness certainly was 
a disadvantage, though at times he claimed it 
allowed him to concentrate and not be distracted 
by other telegraphic circuit noises. 

In his late teens Edison the telegrapher was Edi- 
son the rebel. He could not abide the discipline and 
strictures imposed by others. He was an expert 
operator, but the boredom of the work drove him 
to break the rules, sometimes for pure amusement. 
Being fired or quitting jobs was a way of life. He 
moved from town to town, working in such places 
as Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Nashville, 
Memphis, Louisville, and Boston. 

Telegraphy problems consumed his interest in 
those years. He spent hours trying to work out ways 







The electrographic vote 
recorder, below, and the 
stock ticker were Edison's 
first two inventions. He 
could not sell the vote 
tabulating machine, but 
he received $40,000 for 
his initial stock ticker im- 
provements. He used most 
of that money to buy the 
building on Ward Street 
in Newark in which he 
produced the stock ma- 
chines and numerous 
other inventions. 




The establishment se- 
lected was wholly unpre- 
tentious and devoid of 
architectural beauty, but 
it was centrally located in 
Ward street, Newark, sup- 
plied with a comparative 
abundance of facilities 
and manned by a force 
of three hundred .... 



W K L and Antoma Dickson. 

The Life and Inventions 

of Thomas Alva Edison 1894 




to improve circuits, to automate, to increase the 
reach of that singing wire. In almost a fairy-tale 
fantasy he struck it rich at 23 in New York by in- 
venting a vastly improved stock ticker, close cousin 
of the telegraph. He was rich, for a while, and he 
was on his way to a creative half century of life. 

In his twenties, communications problems con- 
tinued to fascinate him. In those years, John Ott, 
Charles Batchelor, and John Kruesi joined his staff 
in Newark, N.J., and gave him the dedicated crafts- 
men and skilled artisans he needed to translate his 
many ideas into objects. 

Innumerable small improvements in telegraphy 
apparatus came out of the shop where the money- 
making stock ticker was produced. He worked hard 
at developing a two-message-at-a-time-on-one-wire 
device called a Duplex and was temporarily crushed 
when Joseph B. Stearns finished his improvement 
first and beat him to the Patent Office. 

Edison later pursued a long-held dream of per- 
fecting a device which would handle four messages 
at one time on the same wire. It was the Edison 
method: try, change, try, change, again and again. 
He had to complete the Quadruplex to his own 
great satisfaction and profit, for Western Union was 
as anxious as the young inventor to see this device 
materialize. 

They saw it finished in 1874, and fortune, fame, 
and future were made almost certain for Edison. 
He was becoming experienced at surviving the 
patent lawsuits, lies, idea-thievery and humbug that 
then typified the industrial life of America. 

Years earlier, a more idealistic Edison had pro- 
duced a clever electric vote tabulator for use by 
legislative bodies. But the members of those insti- 
tutions did not want the device; it was too efficient, 
it would prevent dealing while voting. He 
rarely made the error of invention-for-its-own-sake 
again. Instead, he set his sights on fulfilling both 
the desire to create and the very human passion 
for fame and fortune. 

America's inventors of the day were a rough and 
tumble lot. They bore little resemblance to such 
scientists of an earlier day as Joseph Henry, who 
was so self-effacing, scholarly, and gentlemanly 







that he would not lower himself to making money 
on a new idea by obtaining a patent. Henry consid- 
ered science a Christian calling, and if the 19th 
century witnessed a dichotomy between pure and 
practical science it was best illustrated by the con- 
trast between Henry on the one hand and Good- 
year, Bell, Morse, McCormick, and Edison on the 
other. 

Alexander Graham Bell was a contemporary of 
Edison and a competitor in the communications 
field. He was born the same year as Edison and 
lived nearly as long. Bell had an intense interest in 
teaching the deaf. To communicate with them he 
envisaged an "harmonic telegraph" and was fasci- 
nated by reports of Stearns' duplex telegraph in 
1872. His wrestling with perfection problems 
brought him to envision further the manufacture of 
a "phonoautograph," a device which would trans- 
late sound waves into a meaningful pattern of 
curves on a smoked glass. All these hopes, com- 
bined with thousands of hours of work, brought Bell 
a patent in 1876 for the first device to transmit 
human speech by electricity — the telephone. Only 
a few hours after Bell filed for a patent, Elisha Gray 
filed a very similar sketch. Bell made a fortune; 
Gray did not. 

One suspects some understandable jealousy on 
Edison's part regarding Bell's success. Edison had 



Alexander Graham Bell, 
left, and Samuel F. B. 
Morse were like Edison in 
that they concentrated 
their inventive energies 
on goods which would 
ease man's daily toil. Bell 
is best known for invent- 
ing the telephone and 
Morse for the telegraph. 



10 



tinkered in the field, and Western Union soon en- 
gaged him to invent a better telephone. Edison was 
confident he could do much more with Bell's very 
crude instrument; its tinny squeaking was human 
speech only to those with vivid imaginations. 

Edison's improvement, a carbon transmitter com- 
bined with Bell's magneto receiver, was a much 
more distinct instrument. But Edison was just one 
of many inventors seeking to improve Bell's instru- 
ment, and only a few weeks earlier Emile Berliner 
got the jump on some aspects of Edison's improve- 
ments in. a caveat he filed with the Patent Office. 
After a 15-year court fight Edison was credited with 
developing the successful carbon transmitter. 

Bell's conflict with Gray and Edison's with Ber- 
liner were typical of those days. Inventors were 
competing with each other all the time. They often 
would take another's idea and try to refine or 
change it in such a way that they could call the 
idea their own. Major firms such as Western Union 
and Bell Telephone would buy the ideas and in turn 
compete. It was the era of idea thievery, and great 
profits were the stakes. Edison admitted to being 
among the most vigorous of the idea thieves, but he 
added, one imagines with a twinkle, "I know how 
to steal." 






11 



Crucibles of creativity: the labs 

When Thomas Edison began his career as an in- 
ventor, the profession was a solitary one. When he 
died, inventing had become essentially a team 
effort. He had launched a concept that eventually 
led to the modern industrial research lab. 

As a young man, Edison dreamed of leaving the 
dreary world of industrial production for full-time 
creating in a secluded spot. In Menlo Park he real- 
ized his dream. His lab in the quiet New Jersey 
countryside became a crucible for creativity of 
unparalleled intensity. 

It would be foolhardy to write too bold the label 
of "team effort" over Menlo Park, for the lab was 
dependent on his personal drive and flow of inno- 
vative ideas. His assistants were not mindless lack- 
eys, but neither were they Edison's peers. He had 
no peers. 

His staff was fluid; many came and went. Some 
men were unable or unwilling to devote all waking 
hours to the endless questing. Some men wore out 
and left, but many were fiercely loyal to Edison and 
stayed for years. 

The atmosphere at Menlo Park was always inti- 
mate and often intense and heated. Edison was in 
complete control. At a glance he could oversee the 
work of a handful of employees. Each of his 
muckers, as he often referred to his men, reported 
to him personally. 

Some of his staff at the old Newark plant stayed 
with him; among them were John Ott, Charles 
Batchelor, and John Kruesi. Ott had been with Edi- 
son for years. A young man of 21 when Edison 
interviewed him in Jersey City, Ott demonstrated 
his inherent mechanical skill by assembling on the 
spot a pile of machine parts and won himself a job. 
Charles Batchelor was an Englishman who had 
completed a machinery installation job for a textile 
mill in Newark and went to Edison for work. He was 
hired for his remarkable skill as a mechanical 
draftsman. And in John Kruesi, Edison had the 



13 



master craftsman. This Swiss clockmaker was able 
to make any instrument suggested to him. 

These men began with Edison and learned with 
him in the strange new world of controlled electri- 
cal energy. They worked at times near the extreme 
limit of human endurance. Edison biographer Mat- 
thew Josephson relates the story of the "bugs" in 
one of Edison's stock printer devices in the early 
1870's. Edison received a rush order for $30,000 
worth of a newly improved model of the printer. At 
the last moment the model was found to have some 
maddening problems. Not wishing to lose this big 
order, Edison took characteristic action. He gath- 
ered together, in the Newark plant, his top assist- 
ants, Batchelor, Ott, Kruesi, and Sigmund Berg- 
mann, and told them: "I've locked the door and 
you'll have to stay here until this job is completed. 
Well, let's find the bugs." After 60 hours without 
sleep and with little food, they had the stock 
printers working smoothly. No one quit. This was 
part of the Edison method, the sweat he claimed 
as the basis of genius. 

Menlo Park is popularly remembered today for 
one invention, the incandescent lamp. Because of 
its ultimate significance to the 20th century and all 
of its allied mechanisms and devices, this honor is 
well justified. Edison, of course, did not invent elec- 
tricity or the electric light, per se. Electric power 
was man-controlled long before his adult years and 
electric lights had already seen some urban use 
before his adventure at Menlo Park. The lights of 
the period were of the arc type, an illumination 
produced only by enormous expenditure of power. 
In an arc lamp, the electricity jumped a gap be- 
tween two carbon rods and steadily burned up the 
rods in brilliant incandescence. The arc lamp gave 
a dazzling light, a light too brilliant to be practical 
for widespread home use. These devices used ex- 
tremely heavy amperage, were dangerous, and gave 
off noxious fumes. 

Edison also was not the first to think of develop- 
ing a glowing filament in an airless glass globe. 
Other scientists had envisioned an electrically acti- 
vated substance which would glow without rapidly 
disintegrating or emitting fumes. Yet no one had 



EDISON'S TOP 
ASSISTANTS 

Mr. Kruesi was the superin- 
tendent, a Swiss trained in 
the best Swiss ideas of ac- 
curacy. He was a splendid 
mechanic with a vigorous 
temper, and wonderful abil- 
ity to work continuously and 
to get work out of men. It 
was an ideal combination, 
that of Edison, Batchelor, 
and Kruesi. Mr. Edison with 
his wonderful flow of ideas 
which were sharply defined 
in his mind, as can be seen 
by any of the sketches that 
he made, as he evidently 
always thinks in three di- 
mensions; Mr. Kruesi, will- 
ing to take the ideas, and 
capable of comprehending 
them, would distribute the 
work so as to get it done 
with marvelous quickness 
and great accuracy. Mr. 
Batchelor was always ready 
for any special fine experi- 
menting or observation, and 
could hold to whatever he 
was at as long as Mr. Edi- 
son wished; and always 
brought to bear on what he 
was at the greatest skill. 

Francis Ft Upton, as quoted in 
Edison His Life and Inventions. 1910 



Mr. Charles Batchelor was 
Mr. Edison's principal as- 
sistant at that time [at 
Menlo Park]. He was an 
Englishman, and came to 
this country to set up the 
thread-weaving machinery 
for the Clark thread-works. 
He was a most intelligent, 
patient, competent, and 
loyal assistant to Mr. Edi- 
son. I remember distinctly 
seeing him work many hours 
to mount a small filament; 
and his hand would be as 
steady and his patience as 
unyielding at the end of 
those many hours as it was 
at the beginning, in spite of 
repeated failures. He was a 
wonderful mechanic; the 
control that he had of his 



14 



The main laboratory at 
Menlo Park was a plain, 
two-story clapboard build- 
ing. Three key men who 
started working for him at 
Newark and who stayed 
with him for many years 
were, clockwise from left, 
John Kruesi, John Ott, and 
Charles Batchelor. 










f.,. 




fingers was marvelous, and 
his eyesight was sharp. Mr. 
Batchelor's judgment and 
good sense were always in 
evidence. 

Francis R Upton, as quoted in 
Edison His Life and Inventions. 1910 



John F. Ott was another 
bright and industrious work- 
er coming to the Menlo Park 
machine shop from Edison's 
Ward Street shop in New- 
ark. Ott was an expert me- 
chanic to whom Kruesi 
generally confided the mak- 
ing of the more delicate 
apparatus or instruments 
required in research work 
at the laboratory. He was a 
pleasant and agreeable man, 
and though he had plenty of 
opportunities like others at 
Menlo Park, for he was a 
master of the trade he plied, 
he remained content in the 
sole ambition of loyally 
serving his master as fine- 
instrument maker. 

Francis Jehl, 
Menlo Park Reminiscences. 1 936 







Next page: Edison sits 
with a group of assistants 
on the second floor of the 
main building at Menlo 
Park in February 1880. 
Shown, from left, are 
L. Boehm, C. Clarke, C. 
Batchelor, W. Carman, 
S. Mott, G. Dean, Edison, 
C. Hughes, G. Hill, G. 
Carman, F. Jehl, J. Law- 
son, C. Flammer, C. Mott, 
and J. Mackenzie. Note 
the incandescent lamps, 
hanging from gas fixtures, 
and the organ. 



,. 






■■ ■;■■■.■.'•'' -*k 



/ 





made a filament that would not burn out quickly. 
In 1878, the pressures of mixing inventing with 
manufacturing were crushing Edison. He got away 
from it all briefly on a trip to Wyoming. He had in- 
vented a device for making precise heat measure- 
ments and wanted to test it during an eclipse of 
the sun. His experiments were not successful, but 
the respite from the lab and stimulating conversa- 
tion rejuvenated his fatigued spirit. He returned to 
New Jersey determined to realize the dream of a 
practical electric lighting system for the homes of 
America. 




<fyO^^ 



THE SEARCH FOR THE 
RIGHT FILAMENT 
Whenever we made an in- 
candescent lamp lor our 
experiments, we had to go 
through the following proc- 
esses: 

First, the raw material for 
the filament had to be 
chosen. . . . Edison tried 
everything he could lay his 
hands on, and when some 
material exhibited good 
qualities, he noted in his 
book "T.A." — Try Again. 
Among the other materials, 
he once tried common cot- 
ton thread from a spool. It 
was not satisfactory; yet he 
perceived something that 
prompted him to mark it for 
later trial. The second test 
was made with a special 
thread from the Clark 
Thread Mills in Newark, 
where Charles Batchelor 
and Will Carman had at one 
time worked. 

The second step was the 
preparation of the raw fila- 
ment. This work Edison al- 
ways did himself .... 

Third, each filament had to 
be carbonized, a process 
he attended to personally 
on the experimental lamps. 
Only after he had mastered 
the art thoroughly and de- 
sired carbons in quantity 
did he instruct "Basic" 
Lawson [Lawson became 
chief carbonizer at the first 
commercial lamp factory] 
and some of the new men 
in the art and assign them 
to the job. 

Fourth, [John] Kruesi sup- 
plied the copper wires, on 
the end of which short 
pieces of platinum had been 
twisted. 

Fifth, [Ludwig] Boehm blew 
the glass stem, inserting 



18 



Francis Jehl drew sketches 
1 and 2 of early experi- 
mental filaments in Octo- 
ber 1879. Edison sketched 
the third one and made 
these notations: "OK, 
TAE," "This is Cotton 
thread," and "about this 
size, E." The drawing of 
the incandescent lamp, 
right, appears in a Menlo 
Park notebook and is 
dated September 20, 1879. 



/ 




While dabbling in the field the year before, he 
had met with all the frustrations well known to 
others who tried before him. Now, refreshed, he 
turned his immense energies to the problem. Early 
in his experiments he rejected the arc light as un- 
workable for home use and decided he had to 
match the gaslight advantages of infinite subdivi- 
sion of power and controlled brilliance. It was a 
formidable challenge, even for Edison. 

He shrewdly calculated the economic aspects of 
gas versus electric illumination. He became a 
skilled gas engineer. He developed an intensive 
and extensive prospectus for an electric light in- 
dustry before the fact of invention; he had not for- 
gotten the folly of his vote tabulator. A masterful 
publicity campaign gained him the backing of men 
like J. P. Morgan and William Vanderbilt. 

The laboratory phase of the search for a practi- 
cal incandescent lamp began in earnest. Teams 
searched the world for filament materials. He tried 
many substances under all possible circumstances. 
The results were distressing. He early saw the need 
for developing a good vacuum in the lamp bulb and 
began to make calculations which would lead to 
the parallel circuitry used in homes today. He was 
reliving the frustrations of such lighting pioneers as 
Charles Brush, William Sawyer, and Joseph Swan. 

The quest for an electric lamp and all the devices 
and machinery needed to make it useful in the 
home brought young Francis Upton to the Menlo 
Park staff. A theoretical mathematician, Upton was 
to prove invaluable in the light experiments, despite 
the constant teasing of his math-poor boss. 

For about a year Edison agonized with the bulb 
design and distribution system. His staff was over- 
worked and hard pressed. Finally he narrowed his 
search for the proper filament to carbonized cot- 
ton threads. Starting on October 19, 1879, a bulb 
burned nonstop for 40 hours, burning out only, 
when Edison turned up the power level. A new age 
was born. The Wizard of Menlo Park, as he was 
touted in the press of the day, had taken the shat- 
tered dreams of other men and made them work. 
He had made his most monumental contribution to 
American science and technology. 



20 



in it the copper-platinum 
wires. 

Sixth, after being carbonized 
the filament was placed on 
the glass stem of the bulb. 
This delicate task was al- 
ways performed by "Batch" 
in Edison's presence. 

Seventh, Boehm inclosed 
the stem with its filament 
within the fragile shell of a 
glass bulb. 

Eighth, I placed the bulb on 
the vacuum pump and be- 
gan evacuating the air. Mar- 
tin Force relieved me on 
rare occasions. 

Ninth, after the vacuum was 
obtained, it was always 
Edison who drove out the 
occluded gases and manip- 
ulated the lamp. When the 
difficult research period was 
past and the development 
period came, Edison often 
entrusted this whole proc- 
ess to me. 

Tenth, when the lamp was 
finished, it was given a life 
test, the process consisting 
in sending a current through 
the filament at an approxi- 
mate candle power and 
noting the number of hours 
it lived. The life test before 
November, 1879, was gen- 
erally conducted in conjunc- 
tion with other work. Ex- 
perimental lamps would last 
from a few minutes to many 
hours, their value not be- 
coming known until they had 
finished the test. A lamp 
was born when it died. 

This outline does not con- 
vey a fair idea of the tedi- 
ous, back-breaking and 
heart-breaking delays ex- 
perienced as we went 
through the various pro- 
cesses. "Batch" sometimes 
spent two or three days 
getting a filament on the 
stem, only to have it break; 
whereupon the work had to 
be done over. And an acci- 
dent was no wonder; for 
a carbon filament thin as a 
hair had to be connected 
with a length of wire equally 
thin! The hours spent in 
waiting while the carbonized 
filaments were in the 
furnace can hardly be 
estimated. 

So with the process of driv- 
ing out occluded gases. It 
had to be performed pre- 
cisely, step by step, with at 
first but little current for 




mm 



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f i 




a 



1 

\5 



: 



short periods and then a 
gradual increase during six 
or eight hours, when finally 
the filament could stand the 
whole heat of the electricity 
without disintegrating. 

I have but to close my eyes 
to see once more the pic- 
ture of our patient, pains- 
taking, keenly observing 
chief carrying on his end- 
less experiments, and at the 
same time educating and 
directing us. We never 
thought him wrong, what- 
ever leading scientists said. 
Our quest never seemed 
vain or foolish. 

I see him tap carefully on 
the bulb with sensitive fin- 
gers as he watches for 
spots or irregularities in the 
carbon. If its condition ap- 
pears good he proceeds 
even more carefully. If it 
does not, he is not greatly 
worried. I have never seen 
a man so cool when great 
stakes were at odds. 

After the lamp, good or bad, 
has finished its test he 
breaks it open and takes it 
to the microscope to study 
the filaments, seeking the 
reason for the failure of the 
slender black threadlike 
substance. 

Francis Jehl. 
Menlo Park Reminiscences. 1 936 



Beneath a replica of the 
first successful incandes- 
cent lamp are four experi- 
mental filaments. They are, 
clockwise from top left, 
carbonized spiral graphite 
sewing thread, carbonized 
bristol cardboard, car- 
bonized cotton sewing 
thread, and carbo-hydro. 
A carbonized cotton sew- 
ing thread was used in 
the memorable test, Oc- 
tober 19-21, 1879. 



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For the next few years Edison was almost com- 
pletely immersed in electric power distribution and 
use. He invented an enormous variety of the gadget 
and power-handling necessities for a commercial 
lighting system. Even with the help of the "new 
breed" of assistants like Upton, most of the system 
was born out of Edison's empirical methods. 

Soon most Americans believed Edison's state- 
ment that "after this we will make electric light so 
cheap that only the rich will be able to burn can- 
dles." He had gained their confidence a few years 
before, in 1877, when he displayed the most original 
of all his inventions, the phonograph. 

This amazing device was born out of the striving 
by Edison to improve the inefficient telephone trans- 
mitter patented by Bell and out of some thought- 
provoking experiments with an embossing device 
for use in recording telegraphic messages. He at- 
tached a needle to one of the vibrating diaphragms 
used in his telephone experiments. He ran waxed 



Notebook pages for Febru- 
ary 13, 1880, show exper- 
iments with what became 
known as Edison-Effect 
lamps, a forerunner of the 
radio tube. In contrast to 
the complexities of elec- 
tronics, the electric lamp 
patent application seems 
quite simple. 



22 



United States Patent Office. 

THOMAS A. EDISON, OF MKNLO PARK, NfCW JERSEY. 
ELECTRIC LAMP. 



SPECIFICATION forming part of Letters Patent No. 223,898, datod January 27, 1880. 

Application fllwl Nuvetttlnr 1, I,i 

To nil whom it may commi : j the lamp, the leading-wires must bo of largo 

|5c it known thai I, THOMAS ALVA KlMMON, ' dimensions ;unl good conductors, and a glass 
if Menlo I 'ark, in the State of New Jersey, I globe cannot lie kept tight at the place where* 
Sited States of America, have invented an the wires pass in and are eemented ; hence the 55 
pprovemcnt in Klcetrie Lamps, and in the J carbon is consumed, because then* must heal 
ilthod of iimiiufVict tiring the same, (Case No. most a perfect vaeuum to render the carbon 
.80,) of which the following is a specification. } stable, especially when such carbon is small in 
Tlicohject ot thisitiN ention is to produceelee- mass and high in electrical resistance. 
rkHaiups giving light by incandescence, which The use ol 'a gas in t he reeei\ er at the at 60 

amps shall have high resistance, so as to at- mospheric pressure, although not attacking 
ow of the practical subdivision of the electric the carbon, serves to dest ro\ it in l ime b\ 4 * air 
iglit. washing/'ortheattrilion produced b\ t lie rapid 

jflie invention consists in a light-giving body | passage of the air over the slightly-coherent 
if carbon wire or sheets coiled or arranged in highly-heated surface of the carbon. I have 65 
licit a manner as to oiler great resistance to reversed this practice. I have discovered that 
lie passage of the electric current, and at the even a cotton thread pro|M»rry carbonized and 
ante time present but a slight surface from J placed in a scaled glass bulb exhausted to one- 
diieh radiation can take place. millionth of an atmosphere oilers from one 

The invention further consists in placing] hundred to live hundred I ohms resistance to the 7° 
ucli burner of great resistance in a nearly- passage of the current, mid that it is absolutely 
Mii'fect vacuum, to prevent oxidation and in- stable at very high temperatures; that if the 
nrv to the conductor by the atmosphere. Tin* thread be coiled as a spiral and carbonized, 
uncut is conducted into the vacuum-bulb or if an\ fibrous vegetable substance which 
broiigh platiua wires sealed into the glass. • will leave a carbon residue after heating in 75 
The invent ion further consists in the method j a closed chamber be so coiled, as much as two 
■f manufacturing carbon conductors of high j thousand ohms resistance ma,\ l»e obtained 
fSistanee, soas to be suitable for giving light I without presenting a radiating surface greater 
B incandescence, and in the manner of secur- than three sixteenths of an inch*, that if 
tig perfect contact between the metallic con j such fibrous material be rubbed with a plus '^ n 
peters or leading wires and the carbon con tic composed of lampblack and tar, its re 
actor. S sistance may lie made high or low, according 

Heretofore light by incandescence has been I to the amount of lamp black placed upon it : 
btained from rods of carbon of one to four j that carbon filaments may be made by a 
Inns resistance, placed in closed vessels, in j combination of far and lamp black, the latter s 5 
diich the atmospheric air has been replaced j being previously ignited in a closed crucible 
If gases that do not combine chemically with | for several hours and afterward moistened and 
lie carbon. The vessel holding the burner kneaded until it assumes the consistency of 
inn been composed of glass cemented to a me- ! thick putty. Small pieces of this material 
allie base. The connection between the lead- I may be rolled out in the form of w ire as small 90 
W'Mrircsand the carbon has been obtained by I as seven one- thousand tits of an inchiudiamc 
lamping the carbon to the metal. The lead- i ter and over a fool in length, and the same 
ug wires have always been large, so that their I may be coated wit h a non-conducting non-car 
njstuiice shall be many limes less than the j lionizing substance and wound on a bobbin, or 
■uriicr, and, in general, the attempts of pre j as a spiral, and the far carbonized in a closed 95 
Wis persons have been to red nee t he resistance chamber by subjecting it to high heat, the 
itliccarhonrod. Thedisudvaiitagcsof follow 1 spiral after carbonization retaining its form. 
«g this practice are, that a lamp having but All these forms are fragile and cannot be 

Be to four ohms resistance cannot -ho worked in 'clamped to the leading- wires with sufficient 
pt numbers m multiple arc without the em j force to insure good contact and prevent heal "•• 

•Oj'Jiteiif of main conductors of enormous di ing. I have discovered lhat ifplalii wires 

Wisious; that, owing to the low resistance of I are used and the plastic lampblack and tar 




24 



AFTER THE LAMP, 
HE CREATED A WHOLE 
ELECTRIC SYSTEM 
7 had a great idea of the 
sale of electric power to 
large factories, etc., of the 
electric lighting system; and 
I got all the insurance maps 
in New York City, and lo- 
cated all the hoists, printing 
presses, and other places 
where they used power. I 
put all these on the maps, 
and allowed for the neces- 
sary copper in the mains to 
carry current to them when 
I put the mains down; so 
that when these places took 
current from the station I 
would be prepared to fur- 
nish it because I had al- 
lowed for it in the wiring. 
There were, I remember, 
554 hoists in that district. In 
some places, a horse would 
be taken upstairs to run a 
hoist, and would be kept 
there until he died. 

Thomas A Edison, as quoted in 
Forty Years of Edison Service. 1 922 



Some of Edison's first elec- 
tric power customers in New 
York were a bit skeptical 
about the accuracy of his 
meters that measured the 
electricity used. One such 
skeptic was one of Ameri- 
ca's leading financiers. 

Mr. John Pierpont Morgan 
. . . wasn't at all sure about 
the inerrancy of that queer 
"wet measure"; so cards 
were printed and hung on 
each fixture in the Morgan 
offices in Wall Street. Each 
card noted the number of 
lamps on the fixture and the 



The electric power indus- 
try called for the develop- 
ment of all kinds of equip- 
ment and created many 
new business opportuni- 
ties and jobs, such as 
tending the Edison Jumbo 
Steam Dynamo at Edison 
Machine Works on Goerck 
Street in New York City. 
Horse-drawn wagons de- 
livered the coal to run the 
dynamos in Philadelphia, 
but soon electric-powered 
vehicles were being used 
by Edison employees. The 
incandescent lamp sketch 
shows some of Edison's 
electric light patents. The 
socket, left, and the fuse 
block were made of wood. 



PO/NT WHERE TWO PARTS 
A RE JO//YEO B Y eos/on 
PATZ30,Z&5. 



BASEOE/NSVLAT/NGMATER- 

>al mm two co/vtacts 

UPOM /TPAT. Z9/^34Z63,3// 



3/7,63/- 264,737. 



SOCHE T COAt TACTS CORRE 
SPO/YD/AIC TOLAMPCOA/- 
TACTS PAT. ?S/,534-Z63,3//. 




EXHAUSTED CLASS GLOBE 
PAT. ZZ3,B9e -ZZ7,ZZ9 
BLOWN ERCXH POTSLASS 
PAT. 266,447. 



MICH REUS TAHCCCARBOn 

e/l a ment Pa t. tsojf? 
heated to /MCAmaescs/rei 

tVH/LELAMPW 

HAU3TCD PUT. ; 



SCREW THREADS TO HOI D 
LAMPAA/OSOCKETPOS/- 

r/rstY together pat. 

U/554. 



C/SfCU/T CONTROLLER PA T. 



6AS PtPE T/XTC/ffEARM 
FMT. 265,3//. 










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time at which they were 
turned on and off each day. 
The test was for a month, 
at the end of which the 
lamp hours were added up 
and figured out on an hour- 
ly basis. "Kilowatts" and 
"kilowatt hours" were a re- 
finement quite unknown 
then to the art, the custo- 
mers or the dictionaries. 
The total reached was then 
compared with the bill ren- 
dered by the [Edison] Com- 
pany. One likes to think of 
the great Morgan, dealing in 
millions, thus putting a new 
meter on test, to check it 
up. The results of the first 
month revealed an apparent 
overcharge. Mr. Morgan 
chuckled. Edison took it 
quite serenely and sug- 
gested giving the little beg- 
gar another chance. Once 
more the same thing hap- 
pened, and the chuckle 
became a broad grin .... 
Then Edison went "sleuth- 
ing" himself. He inspected 
the Drexel, Morgan offices 
carefully — the wires and 
fixtures critically — looked 
over the hourly records, and 
then asked who did the 
chores after dark. He was 
told that the janitor — really 
a very excellent chap — 
cleaned up the place. The 
janitor was sent for and 
when inquiry was made as 
to the light he used in mop- 
ping up the floors, pointed 
to a central fixture carrying 
ten lamps. He had made no 
record of its nightly use — 
hadn't been asked to. Told 
to make note every night of 
his use of it during a month, 
he did so; and when the 
next bill came in, it was 
found that the meter had 
registered within a very 
small fraction the actual 
lamphour consumption as 
computed from the cards. 
The joke was on Mr. Mor- 
gan, who became a highly 
enthusiastic advocate of a 
meter that could so much 
more satisfactorily stand 
interrogation than others 
who came after the finan- 
cier's money. 

Thomas C Martin. 
Forty Years of Edison Service. 1 922 



25 




Edison demonstrates his 
tinfoil phonograph at 
Washington in April 1878, 
nine months after making 
his first known notation 
about the possibilities of 
such a machine at the 
bottom of a sketch of the 
improved telephone trans- 
mitter: "Just tried experi- 
ment with a diapham 
having an embossing point 
& held aganst parafin pa- 
per moving rapidly the 
Spkg vibrations are in- 
dented nicely & theres no 
doubt that I shall be able 
to store up & reproduce 
automatically at any fu- 
ture time the human voice 
perfectly." Behind the 
phonograph are, left, 
Uriah Painter, his host in 
Washington, and Charles 
Batchelor. 



Gy~Jh^ ^^ H 



JL+ c^J^ { 



tKy^. La,« 








_<*—*- 1/ O t c s^ 




26 



paper under the device while shouting into the 
diaphragm. The shouting caused the point of the 
needle to make tiny impressions on the paper 
according to the quality and power of Edison's 
voice. When he ran it back under the needle at the 
same speed with which he ran it through originally, 
he got something which he and Charles Batchelor 
thought bore some remote resemblance to the 
human voice. 

John Kruesi made a machine the way Edison had 
sketched it — a hand-cranked cylinder mounted to 
turn freely with a diaphragm and stylus so mounted 
that the tinfoil-covered cylinder would "walk" 
under the diaphragm. Into the machine Edison 
recited "Mary had a little lamb" while a disbeliev- 
ing staff snickered. When he turned the machine 
back to the starting point and began to crank 
again, the smirks turned to stunned disbelief 
because there, squawking but clear, was the Old 
Man's voice. It was the first time in history that 
human speech had been recorded. 

"I was never so taken aback in my life," Edison 
said later. "Everybody was astonished. I was always 
afraid of things that worked the first time." 

He demonstrated the phonograph before mem- 
bers of Congress and President Rutherford B. Hayes 
in Washington. Thousands of people journeyed to 
Menlo Park to hear recorded sound. Edison consid- 
ered the phonograph mainly a functional device, 
not a medium of entertainment. But at first he did 
not even pursue its functional possibilities, such as 
using it as a dictating machine. He put it aside for 
10 years and turned his energies to electric power. 

After inventing the incandescent lamp, he opened 
a factory to manufacture bulbs, he developed intri- 
cate equipment to generate and to distribute elec- 
tric current, and he established an electrical light- 
ing system in New York City. 

By 1884 he was a young 37 but no longer the 
devil-may-care rebel loner. He was a millionaire 
responsible for a huge industrial enterprise center- 
ing around the electric light. He was a national 
figure and the hero of a generation. But tragedy 
struck in August 1884; his wife Mary died of typhoid 
fever at the age of 29. 



For a long time some 
people thought there was 
trickery. One morning at 
Menlo Park a gentleman 
came to the laboratory 
and asked to see the 
phonograph. It was Bishop 
Vincent . . . I exhibited it, 
and then he asked if he 
could speak a few words. 
I put on a fresh foil and 
told him to go ahead. 
He commenced to recite 
Biblical names with im- 
mense rapidity. On repro- 
ducing it he said: "I am 
satisfied, now. There isn't 
a man in the United States 
who could recite those 
names with the same 
rapidity." 

Thomas A Edison, as quoted in 
Edison His Life and Inventions. 1910 



27 




Mary Stilwell Edison and 
the inventor had a daugh- 
ter, Marion Estelle, and 
two sons, Thomas A. Jr. 
and William Leslie. 



28 



He had married Mary Stilwell in 1871, when she 
was an employee in his Newark shop. He was 24 
and she was 16. Their years together were marked 
by long hours of solitude for Mary Edison, for he 
found his greatest meaning in life in the laboratory, 
not the home. She was often bored and lonely, 
even with her children, although she enjoyed the 
prominence of being the wife of one of America's 
most famous men. A woman of simple tastes and 
education, she tended to reinforce Edison's notion 
that women were inferior to men. But Edison loved 
her and was crushed with grief when she died. 

It is always a temptation to think in terms of 
turning points in a man's life and to oversimplify 
the changes which apparently stem from an event. 
The temptation exists with Edison's life at this point. 
In a sense, his wife's death marked the end of Edi- 
son's youth and of the Menlo Park lab, to which he 
rarely returned again. For a brief period his inter- 
ests changed. The short diary he kept during July 
1885 reveals a man seeing and appreciating more 
of life than hard work, a partial crack in the Vic- 
torian sanctification of eternal labor. He was filled 
with a new appreciation of the nonindustrial world 
around him, a world of people, natural beauty, 
poetry, the arts. It was during this period that he 
met young Mina Miller, who married him the next 
February and who proved to be the ideal wife for 
his new station in life, a man of fame, wealth, and 
middle age. He bought her an estate, Glenmont, in 
Llewellyn Park, and a new phase of his life began. 

West Orange, N.J., was "country" in those days. 
Edison selected this sparsely populated and quiet 
town to be the site of a new "invention factory" 10 
times the size of Menlo Park. The lab, just a mile 
from Glenmont, was finished in 1887. It was mag- 
nificent. All of the main structures were brick, and 
the largest, Building 5, had three stories with a 
total of 30,000 square feet of floor space. In Build- 
ing 5 were shops containing very heavy and precise 
machinery of many kinds, a library which even- 
tually had 10,000 books, a music room, a darkroom, 
and a stockroom replete with the most common 
and most scarce substances of the natural world. 

One-story brick buildings laid out at right angles 



29 



On the first page of the 
brief diary he kept in 
July 1885, Edison muses 
about Mina Miller, dan- 
druff, and smoking. 



Cttocvkc^»<^ &£' 5". ■£ LKlfO' y»1l^ lift* <At*J\<. z+*\bcKn<xtu,eci 6u h£»€ 3ivn6cdwv» 

u\CL\pv>c*e\\'iC.cL De-CLi*Ju , cto^~ mlo n TT T^b dee^> mtM^I S-$*k> clw<*u 
\\\< cUu ~T*Xcrvc*J\U y*\cCtt<A 1 v*. Crowded \srCfe >v\ij yxah^fe. fcZfofu 

(^neccMccaJ — lu^/tvfT Cot\fd^>xi e.<5Zt~y*iAct\ / wt.YQc* <^f ^T5>U<*.c& 
~fSo 'Yl » c o I iV% >* u . J>t£ reel* of- 'foCc^cco pteAVit* ywvCttr cjo cf*.<xr 



30 





Mina and Thomas Edison 
had a daughter, Made- 
leine, and two sons, 
Charles and Theodore. 
They lived at Glenmont, a 
large, brick and wood es- 
tate near the laboratory. 
Next page: The foyer 
gives an idea of the mas- 
sive scale and ornateness 
of the house. "Red mahog- 
any, cunningly wrought, 
enters into the composi- 
tion of floor, walls and 
ceiling, affording an ef- 
fective background for the 
glowing Eastern fabrics 
which abound," is the 
way W. K. L. and Antonia 
Dickson described the 
entry hall. 







*•' **•■* ■•' '-' -'" • ..->-« 


1 / 






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xlgfL 


i 


1 i- IS 




MJ| 1 





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HHHHHhHHwk- '^WHHBfiS 










IPifl| 


--*^?»"£a: •• - ■ " ' .,.£ 






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to No. 5 contained the latest equipment for making 
precise electrical measurements, carrying out com- 
plex chemical experiments, and developing proto- 
type equipment parts. A picket fence enclosed the 
whole complex to protect the secrecy of experi- 
ments, and guards admitted visitors by invitation 
only. One time Edison himself was refused entrance 
until an assistant went to the gate to identify him. 

The intimacy of Menlo Park was gone. Instead of 
the dozen or so top assistants, Edison now had 
about 50. He was further removed from the front- 
line action, and management chores in his growing 
manufacturing plant took much of his time. Al- 
though he sometimes secreted himself with an 
assistant in a section of the lab to work out some 
thorny problem, he spent much time at his desk in 
the huge library. Often lab section heads and manu- 
facturing management people reported to him there. 

Though larger, the West Orange lab was like its 
predecessor at Menlo Park in that it was the only 
private research lab devoted to a broad spectrum 
of invention and not the slave of one industry. 
Josephson wrote that "The strategic importance of 
Edison's original model of the private research 
center, as the handmaiden of technology, was 
quickly grasped by the masters of some of our 
large industrial corporations." These new company 
labs, like Westinghouse and Bell, were not success- 
ful for some time, perhaps because they did not 
have an Edison at the helm. 

The road to a new Edison product was a fairly 
standard one although experimentation toward one 
goal often would reveal something so new that the 
offshoot would prove more important than the origi- 
nal. The original idea came most often from the 
fertile mind of Edison, the result of creative synthe- 
sizing. Many times other theoreticians on the staff 
would assist in the idea formulation phase. Then 
the idea, embodied in rough sketches and notes, 
would be reduced to drawings and plans by others. 
Slowly a prototype model would be detailed on 
paper. Then the plan would go to the shops for 
building and to the field or lab for testing. For every 
successful improvement or innovation there were 
many dead ends and failures. 



34 



"The chemical room is a 
favorite of Edison," ac- 
cording to the Dicksons, 
"and here he often 
may be found, draped in 
an unsightly toga, the 
groundwork of which may 
once have been brown, 
but which is now embel- 
lished with strange de- 
vices in magenta, arsenic- 
green and yellow, the 
result of divers chemical 
catastrophes. He seems 
to be inhaling the evil 
smells with a gusto . . . ." 



*5 



tuttui: 



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ft t It 



mM 



jfc > 



t' 




The main building at West 
Orange contained offices, 
a library, a large stock- 
room, and all kinds of 
experimental rooms. Both 
the first and second floors 
had a machine shop. 
Many of the various exper- 
iments and production 
activities were carried out 
in buildings near the com- 
pound or in other loca- 
tions, such as the primary 
battery assembly plant 
and the Edison Chemical 
Works lab in Silver Lake 
N.J. At his desk in the 
library, Edison often met 
with top assistants and 
with guests, in this case 
Rudolph Diesel, developer 
of the compression-igni- 
tion engine. 



36 




Next page: Edison gathers 
with his top employees 
outside the laboratory in 
July 1893. The men, front 
row from left, are Charles 
Brown, J. Gladstone, 
Thomas Maguire, John 
Ott, Edison, Charles 
Batchelor, Walter Mallory, 
J. Randolph, J. Harris; 
second row, A. Stewart, 
W. Miller, Jonas Ayls- 
worth, J. Marshall, Arthur 
Kennelly, P. Kenny, W. K. 
L. Dickson, T. Banks, H. 
Miller; third row, S. Burn, 
Charles Wurth, F. Phelps 
Jr., Fred Ott, E. Thomas, 
R. Lozier, William Heise, 
W. Logue, H. Gagan, A. 
Wangemann; fourth row, 
L. Sheldon, R. Arnot, C. 
Kaiser, J. Martin, H. Reed, 
C. Dally, F. Devonald, 
and A. Thompson. 




Is 














.. ■■•...- .M' 



-,.-' -:; r ' ' - : 




Francis Upton, top left, 
was one of Edison's clos- 
est assistants at newly 
built West Orange. About 
to eat a quick meal in the 
lab are members of an 
Insomnia Squad, so called 
because of long hours 
they spent on many ex- 
periments: seated from 
left, Johnny LaMonte, Billy 
Fulton, Sam Moore, Edi- 
son; standing, from left, 
Ed McGlynn, Bob Spahle, 
and Archie Hoffman. Be- 
hind his desk, tending to 
the voluminous paperwork, 
is William H. Meadow- 
croft. The names of his 
young aides and of many 
other hard-working em- 
ployees, top right, have 
been forgotten, but all 
played a part in making 
the invention factory run 
smoothly. Occasionally, 
the employees, and even 
the seemingly tireless 
Old Man, would relax at 
a company picnic. 



40 



THEY WORKED FOR 
EDISON AT WEST 
ORANGE 

Edison's many experi- 
mental projects and busi- 
ness interests kept the 
West Orange area hum- 
ming with activity from 
1887 to 1931. The refine- 
ment of the phonograph, 
developments in the mo- 
tion picture field, experi- 
mentation with the storage 
battery, the search for a 
domestic source of rub- 
ber, and work on numer- 
ous lesser known ventures 
required a large staff of 
technical engineers, skill- 
ed workmen, unskilled 
laborers, and clerks. 
For years, Edison's chief 
theoretical assistant was 
Francis Upton. 

As Edison always wanted 
to know what had been 
done before in this or that 
line, Upton saved himself 
lots of time by studying 
up the subject and then 
acquainting Edison with 
the facts. Edison liked 
and respected Upton, for 
the latter had acquired a 
brilliantly profound theo- 
retical store of knowledge. 
And under Edison's guid- 




ance he soon gained the 
necessary experience to 
make theory and practice 
meet. It was always edify- 
ing to listen to their argu- 
ments, and often a group 
of us would gather round 
and drink in every word 
that was spoken. Reason- 
ings and sparrings be- 
tween Edison and Upton 
often led to new experi- 
ments in which perhaps 
Batchelor's deft fingers 
or Kruesi's machine shop 
knowledge took part. 



Francis Jehl. 
Men/o Park Reminiscences. 1 936 




At times Edison the em- 
piricist would become 
irritated with the theoreti- 
cal approaches of Upton 
and others on the staff. 

/ was once with Mr. Upton 
calculating some tables 
which he had put me on, 
when Mr. Edison appeared 
with a glass bulb having a 
pear-shaped appearance in 
his hand. It was the kind 
that we were going to use 
for our lamp experiments; 
and Mr. Edison asked Mr. 
Upton to please calculate 
for him its cubical contents 
in centimeters. Now Mr. 
Upton was a very able 
mathematician .... 
Whatever he did and worked 
on was executed in a purely 
mathematical manner, and 
any wrangler at Oxford 
would have been delighted 
to see him juggle with inte- 
gral and differential equa- 
tions, with a dexterity that 
was surprising. He drew the 
shape of the bulb exactly 
on paper, and got the equa- 
tion of its lines with which 
he was going to calculate 
its contents, when Mr. Edi- 
son again appeared and 
asked him what it was. He 
showed Mr. Edison the work 
he had already done on the 
subject, and told him that 
he would very soon finish 
calculating it. 'Why,' said 
Edison, 7 would simply take 
that bulb and fill it with mer- 
cury and weigh it; and from 
the weight of the mercury 
and its specific gravity I'll 
get it in five minutes, and 
use less mental energy than 
is necessary in such a fa- 
tiguing operation.' 

Francis Jehl. 
Men/o Park Reminiscences. 1 936 




Edison seldom worked with 
his own hands. He had a 
mechanical man who did 
all the manipulating, while 
the master did the experi- 
menting in his head. The 
mechanical man was 
named Freddie Ott, rotund, 
healthy, honest, exceed- 
ingly deft with his fingers; 
a tireless worker who felt 
tired all the time because 
he was out of sympathy 
with Edison's enterprising 
restlessness. Edison soon 
re-introduced himself and 
Freddie to me by pointing 
to himself as "Don Quix- 
ote" and to Freddie as 
"Santcho Pantcho." Edi- 
son himself was generally 
referred to as The Old 
Man. He had nicknamed 
his experimenters "Muck- 
ers," he himself being the 
chief Mucker. 

M A Rosanoff. "Edison in 

His Laboratory." Harpers Magazine. 

September 1932 



Then there was William 
H. Meadowcroft, who was 
Edison's "right arm" for 
more than half a century; 
he remained with him as 
his personal secretary to 
the day of the inventor's 
death. Meadowcroft 's 
services were of incalcul- 
able value; he was for 
years the great inventor's 
contact with the public; 
his diplomacy and cour- 
tesy won him the love and 
respect of the public press 
and of the many distin- 
guished guests of the in- 
ventor. To see Edison, it 
was first necessary to see 
Meadowcroft, and when 
you met Meadowcroft, 
you met a diplomat. 

Francis T Miller. 

Thomas A. Edison An Inspiring 

Story for Boys. 1 940 



42 



Fred Ott works on an ex- 
periment, as someone, 
perhaps a reporter, takes 
notes. Edison, while mov- 
ing ahead on his major 
projects, usually dabbled 
in related fields, such as 
micrography. 



■"%- 




EDISON'S 



5000 



w 



COPIES FROM A SINGLE WRITING. 




THE ELECTRIC PEN AND DUPLICATING PRESS 

Was invented three years ago. Many thousands are now In use in the United States, Canada, Great Britain France Germany 
Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, Brazil, China, Japan, and other countries. 

Stencils can be made with the Electric Pen nearly as fast as writing can be done with an ordinary Pen. From 1,000 to 15 000 
impressions can be taken from each stencil, by means of the Duplicating Press, at the speed of five to fifteen per minute 

The apparatus is used by the United States, City and State Governments, Railroad, Steamboat and Express Companies 
Insurance and other Corporations, Colleges and Schools, Churches, Sabbath Schools, Societies, Bankers, Real Estate Dealers' 
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Market Quotations, Business Cards, Autographic Circular Letters and Postal Cards, Pamphlets, Catalogues, Ruled and Blank Forms' 
lawyers Briefs, Contracts, Abstracts, Legal Documents. Freight Tariffs, Time Tables, Invoices, Labels, Letter, Bill and Envelope 
Heads, Maps, Tracings, Architectural and Mechanical Drawings, Plans and Specifications, Bills of Fare, Music, Insurance Policies 
Cypher Books, Cable and Telegraphic Codes, Financial Exhibits, Property Lists, Manifests, Inventories, Schedules, Shipping Lists' 
College and School Documents, Rolls, Examination Questions, Examples, Illustrations, Scholars' Reports, Lecture Notes, Regulations' 
Blanks, Official Notices, Mailing Lists, Committee Reports, Sermons, Lectures, Pastoral Information, Manuscripts, Journals Fac- 
Similies of Papers, Drawings, Hieroglyphics, Programmes, Designs, etc. 

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thereof. Additional information and samples of work furnished on application. 

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" 2 " « 9x11 " 50.00. 

" 3 " •« 0x14 " 60.00. 

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LOCAL AGENCY, 142 La Salle Street, Chicago. | PHILADELPHIA AGENCY, 628 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. 

DOMINION AGENCY, 44 Church Street, Toronto, Ont. 



GEN'L EASTERN AGENCY, 20 New Church St., New York. 



44 






o 



One of Edison's lesser 
known inventions was the 
electric pen and press, 
touted here in an adver- 
tisement. Two offshoots of 
the entertainment phono- 
graph were the dictating 
machine and the talking 
doll. The doll did not sell 
very well, but that failure 
was minor when compared 
to the millions of dollars 
involved in his unsuccess- 
ful New Jersey ore-mining 
operation, shown on the 
next page. 




^ 



The Edison of middle age tended to be less flex- 
ible than Edison the young man. He was inclined to 
dismiss competitors' innovations which in his early 
days he would have "borrowed" and refined. One 
cannot escape the conclusion that despite all its 
wonderful equipment, materials, and staff, the West 
Orange lab simply never approached Menlo Park 
in degree of creativity. 

Fierce competition forced him to turn his atten- 
tion once again .0 the phonograph. He saw others 
close to reaping profits from their versions of home 
entertainment phonographs. So, during the 1880's 
and 1890's, he developed improved model after im- 
proved model of the Edison phonograph. The com- 
petition was growing stiff, and holding a large share 
of the market was Edison's lifeline to solvency. He 
held on to it tenaciously. 

Though the phonograph business demanded the 
attention of a large part of his staff, it did not com- 
pletely subvert the original intent of the lab. Experi- 
mental products in diverse fields were produced. 
Some succeeded, but many failed. 

This was a trying period for Edison. He was los- 
ing his firm grip on the electrical business. More 
and more people, such as George Westinghouse 
and Elihu Thomson, were competing with him. Edi- 
son stubbornly stuck with his direct-current system 
and openly sparred with Westinghouse, an alternat- 
ing-current proponent. Edison's factory payrolls, 
meanwhile, were constantly rising and getting more 
difficult to meet. He decided to bolster the electrical 
business by joining forces with a financial syndi- 
cate. The Edison Electric Light Company became 
the central part of Edison General Electric Com- 
pany. Edison still had some say in the affairs of the 
firm, but against his wishes he soon lost most of 
that power when Edison General Electric merged 
with its chief competitor, Thomson-Houston. The 
firm was called the General Electric Company. 
Edison's name had been dropped. 

Edison was dejected by all these financial deal- 
ings and even before the final merger decided to 
leave his electric power involvements and immerse 
himself in a new search. By 1890 the high-grade 
iron ore in the eastern States had been exhausted 



48 



In a caveat filed with the 
Patent Office, Edison dis- 
closes that he is "experi- 
menting upon an instru- 
ment which does for the 
Eye what the phonograph 
does for the Ear," and 
shows, on the next page, 
how this motion picture 
equipment would work. 



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and machinery had not been developed to economi- 
cally utilize the great quantities of lower-grade 
ore. Edison decided to find a way. He purchased a 
large area near Ogdensburg, N.J., and constructed 
a huge facility for crushing, processing, and ex- 
tracting iron. The facility was supposed to smash 
and crush boulders the size of an upright piano. 
Full of problems and breakdowns, it drained the 
money and time of Edison for years. He sank $2 
million into this venture and was in debt for hun- 
dreds of thousands more. In 1899 he was laboring 
to keep his constantly improving machinery operat- 
ing, trying to get ahead of the heavy losses he was 
taking. But one day Charles Batchelor brought him 
the news that the vast Mesabi range deposits in the 
Midwest were to be extracted by open-pit mining 
and that economical transportation eastward on the 
Great Lakes had been made feasible. Iron ore fell 
to $2.65 a ton in Cleveland. Edison's New Jersey & 
Pennsylvania Concentrating Works was ruined; the 
company was broke. 

While the ore-processing fiasco had taken up the 
better part of Edison's creative time for a decade, 
all was not lost. Some of the diversions he engaged 
in during this time were remarkably successful. 
One was motion pictures. 

As early as 1887, Edison had revealed his idea 
for a camera that would record motion to William 
K. L. Dickson, a young English immigrant employed 
at the lab. Dickson was a camera enthusiast who 



Edison's 1889 Strip Ki- 
netograph was the first 
workable motion picture 
camera in America to use 
strip film. The film ran 
horizontally. 



FROM THE MAN WHO 
BROUGHT YOU THE 
MOVIES 

In recent years Edison's 
role as a cinematographic 
pioneer has been criti- 
cized by some scholars. 
Here is a more traditional 
view of Edison's contri- 
butions: 

The most that could be 
said of the condition of 
the art when Edison en- 
tered the field was that it 
had been recognized that 
if a series of instantane- 
ous photographs of a 
moving object could be 
secured at an enormously 
high rate — many times per 
second — they might be 
passed before the eye 
either directly or by pro- 
jection upon a screen, 
and thereby result in a 
reproduction of the move- 
ments. Two very serious 
difficulties lay in the way 
of actual accomplishment, 
however — first, the pro- 
duction of a sensitive sur- 
face in such form and 
weight as to be capable 
of being successively 
brought into position and 
exposed, at the necessar- 
ily high rate; and, second, 
the production of a cam- 
era capable of so taking 
the pictures. . . . 
In the earliest experiments 
attempts were made to 
secure the photographs, 
reduced microscopically, 
arranged spirally on a cyl- 
inder about the size of a 
phonograph record, and 
coated with a highly sen- 
sitized surface, the cylin- 
der being given an inter- 
mittent movement, so as 
to be at rest during each 
exposure. Reproductions 
were obtained in the same 
way, positive prints being 
observed through a mag- 
nifying glass. . . . 
During the experimental 
period and up to the early 
part of 1889, the kodak 
film was being slowly de- 



worked closely with Edison during a decade of 
experimentation and development of what was to 
become the first successful motion picture camera. 
Most historians believe the celluloid film Strip 
Kinetograph camera was first successful in 1889. 
Edison and Dickson also created the peephole 
Kinetoscope, which presented the first paid public 
motion picture shows in 1894. 

The work on the motion picture idea went on 
despite the little time the ore-preoccupied Edison 
personally devoted to the project. Great credit is 
due his able assistants, especially Dickson, in this 
venture, much more perhaps than in any other Edi- 
son project which required much developmental 
work. In 1893, the Black Maria was built as the first 
specially designed motion picture studio. Here and 
in the nearby countryside the very earliest motion 
pictures were made. 

Edison, against Dickson's advice, did not actively 
try to create a projector-screen combination. Edi- 
son thought the use of a screen for a mass audi- 
ence would diminish the market for projectors too 
much. While Louis Lumiere, Thomas Armat, and 
others went on to devise systems using a screen on 
a wall, Edison stuck with his peep-show Kineto- 
scope. He foolishly lost Dickson to a competitor 
during this period which became rank with 




^+4. 



veloped by the Eastman 
Kodak Company. Edison 
perceived in this product 
the solution of the prob- 
lem on which he had 
been working, because 
the film presented a very 
light body of tough mate- 
rial on which relatively 
large photographs could 
be taken at rapid intervals. 
The surface, however, was 
not at first sufficiently sen- 
sitive to admit of sharply 
defined pictures being se- 
cured at the necessarily 
high rates. . . . Much 
credit is due the Eastman 
experts — stimulated and 
encouraged by Edison, 
but independently of him 
— for the production at 
last of a highly sensitized, 
fine-grained emulsion pre- 
senting the highly sensi- 
tized surface that Edison 
sought. 

Having at last obtained 
apparently the proper ma- 
terial upon which to se- 
cure the photographs, the 
problem then remained to 
devise an apparatus by 
means of which from 
twenty to forty pictures 
per second could be 
taken; the film being sta- 
tionary during the expo- 
sure and, upon the clos- 
ing of the shutter, being 
moved to present a fresh 
surface. In connection 
with this problem it is in- 



52 



"With its flapping sail-like 
roof and ebon hue," the 
Dicksons wrote, the Black 
Maria "has a weird and 
semi-nautical appearance, 
and the uncanny effect is 
not lessened when, on an 
imperceptible signal, the 
great building swings 
slowly around upon a 
graphited centre, present- 
ing any given angle to the 
rays of the sun, and rend- 
ering the operations in- 
dependent of diurnal vari- 
ations." In 1896, on top of 
a building in New York 
City, May Irwin and John 
C. Rice embrace in "The 
Kiss From Widow Jones." 
Their prolonged cinema 
kiss drew large crowds — 
and a few calls for cen- 
sorship. 



liM •* 




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teresting to note that this 
question of high speed 
was apparently regarded 
by all Edison's prede- 
cessors as the crucial 
point. . . . 

After the accomplish- 
ment of the fact, it would 
seem to be the obvious 
thing to use a single lens 
and move the sensitized 
film with respect to it, in- 
termittently bringing the 
surface to rest, then ex- 
posing it, then cutting off 
the light and moving the 
surface to a fresh posi- 
tion; but who, other than 
Edison, would assume 
that such a device could 
be made to repeat these 
movements over and over 
again at the rate of twenty 
to forty per second? . . . 
Edison's solution of the 
problem involved the pro- 
duction of a kodak in 
which from twenty to forty 
pictures should be taken 
in each second, and with 
such fineness of adjust- 
ment that each should 
exactly coincide with its 
predecessors even when 
subjected to the test of 
enlargement by projec- 
tion. This . . . was finally 
accomplished, and in the 
summer of 1889 the first 
modern motion-picture 
camera was made. More 
than this, the mechanism 
for operating the film was 
so constructed that the 
movement of the film took 
place in one-tenth of the 
time required for the ex- 
posure, giving the film an 
opportunity to come to 
rest prior to the opening 
of the shutter. 

Frank I Dyer and Thomas C Martin. 
Edison His Life and Inventions. 1910 



Edison's "The Great Train 
Robbery," filmed in 1903, 
was one of the first mo- 
tion pictures with a story 
line and was made to be 
projected in theaters. 
Long lines of people wait- 
ing to see such shows as 
a fight between Gentle- 
man Jim Corbett and Pete 
Courtenay in the earlier 
peephole Kinetoscopes 
sparked demands for 
mass shows. The staged 
fight, incidentally, took 
place in the Black Maria. 



litigations and patent infringements. But the Edison 
patents were to help keep him rich for many years. 
All inventors and improvers of motion picture 
cameras and projectors of the day owed much to 
his Kinetograph, Kinetoscope, and other early 
experiments. 

Having recovered quickly from the defeat and 
failure of a decade of striving in iron mining, Edison 
decided in 1900 to make a better battery. 

Huge and efficient generators of electricity were 
already in use. Called dynamos, they were progeny 
of the first 90 percent efficient generator developed 
by Edison — the "long-waisted Mary Ann." A neces- 
sary auxiliary to these dynamos was a means of 
storing power for a long period. The storage bat- 
tery was in common use, but it was of lead-acid 
construction, heavy, and destroyed itself in rather 
short order. Edison, the master innovator in the 
power field, saw the need for a battery which would 
last longer and be lighter. He believed that electric 
motors were superior to gasoline engines for use 
by the infant auto industry and that a better battery 
would make electric cars truly competitive. 

By 1901 the West Orange lab was gearing up for 
the new quest. He hired a staff of about 90 men 
under a chief chemist, gathered a huge assortment 
of materials to be tested by the Edison method, and 
began the search. For years they experimented 
intensively. Always, it seemed that when they 
had developed one characteristic in a battery which 
was desirable they found another which was not. 

Edison obtained many patents during this period 
before finally coming up with a nickel-iron-alkaline 
battery. It was a great improvement over lead-acid 
types in several ways. It was slow to decompose 
and it was light. It also was reversible; that is, upon 
charging, the battery would reassume its internal 
physical structure. It held a charge for an extremely 
long time without recharging, but it was expensive 
and could not deliver enough power for its weight 
to make it useful in all-electric autos. Nor could it 
provide the heavy initial current needed to start a 
gasoline buggy. 

Despite these problems, the nickel-iron-alkaline 
battery was a magnificent example of the Edison 



55 




A bakery in Lincoln, 
Nebr., not only used Edi- 
son storage batteries to 
power its trucks but ad- 
vertised its then novel 
way of baking bread, by 
electricity. While working 
on the nickel-iron-alkaline 
storage battery in the 
early 1900's, Edison also 
produced poured cement 
houses and, beginning in 
1912, disc records, which 
he maintained were not 
as good as the cylinders. 




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58 



THE PHONOGRAPH 
BECAME AN INDUSTRY 
The original phonograph, 
as invented by Edison, 
remained in its crude and 
immature state for almost 
ten years — still the object 
of philosophical interest, 
and as a convenient text- 
book illustration of the 
effect of sound vibration. 
. . . In 1887 his time was 
comparatively free, and 
the phonograph was then 
taken up with renewed 
energy, and the effort 
made to overcome its 
mechanical defects and to 
furnish a commercial in- 
strument, so that its early 
promise might be realized. 
The important changes 
made from that time up 
to 1890 converted the 
phonograph from a scien- 
tific toy into a successful 
industrial apparatus. The 
idea of forming the rec- 
ord on tinfoil had been 
early abandoned, and in 
its stead was substituted 
a cylinder of wax-like ma- 
terial, in which the rec- 
ord was cut by a minute 
chisel-like gouging tool. 
Such a record or phono- 
gram, as it was then 
called, could be removed 
from the machine or re- 
placed at any time, many 
reproductions could be 
obtained without wearing 
out the record, and when- 
ever desired the record 
could be shaved off by a 
turning-tool so as to pre- 
sent a fresh surface on 
which a new record could 



By supposedly following 
Edison's sketch, top left, 
John Kruesi built the first 
tinfoil phonograph, top 
right, in 1877. Though im- 
proved by Edison in 1888 
and thereafter, the phono- 
graph essentially remained 
the simple machine delin- 
eated in the original pat- 
ent drawings. Gathered 
around the 1888 model 
after a 72-hour stint of 
modifications, are, seated 
from left, Fred Ott, Edison, 
Col. George E. Gouraud; 
standing, from left, W. K. 
L. Dickson, Charles Batch- 
elor, A. Theodore E 
Wangemann, John Ott, 
and Charles Brown. 




T A. EDISON. 
Phonograph or Speaking Maohine. 

No. 200,521. Patented Feb. 19, 1878 










be formed, something like 
an ancient palimpsest. A 
wax cylinder having walls 
less than one-quarter of 
an inch in thickness could 
be used for receiving a 
large number of records, 
since the maximum depth 
of the record groove is 
hardly ever greater than 
one one-thousandth of an 
inch. Later on, and as the 
crowning achievement in 
the phonograph field, from 
a commercial point of 
view, came the duplication 
of records to the extent 
of many thousands from 
a single "master." . . . 
Another improvement . . . 
was making the recording 
and reproducing styluses 
of sapphire, an extremely 
hard, non-oxidizable jewel, 
so that those tiny instru- 
ments would always retain 
their true form and effec- 
tively resist wear. . . . 
After a considerable pe- 
riod of strenuous activity 
in the eighties, the phono- 
graph and its wax records 
were developed to a suf- 
ficient degree of perfec- 
tion to warrant him in 
making arrangements for 
their manufacture and 
commercial introduction. 
At this time the surround- 
ings of the Orange labo- 
ratory were distinctly rural 
in character. Immediately 
adjacent to the main build- 



attif 



59 





ing and the four smaller 
structures, constituting 
the laboratory plant, were 
grass meadows that 
stretched away for some 
considerable distance in 
all directions, and at its 
back door, so to speak, 
ducks paddled around 
and quacked in a pond 
undisturbed. Being now 
ready for manufacturing, 
but requiring more facil- 
ities, Edison increased his 
real-estate holdings by 
purchasing a large tract 
of land lying contiguous 
to what he already owned. 
At one end of the newly 
acquired land two unpre- 
tentious brick structures 
were erected, equipped 
with first-class machinery, 
and put into commission 
as shops for manufactur- 
ing phonographs and their 
record blanks, while the 
capacious hall forming the 
third story of the labora- 
tory, over the library, was 
fitted up and used as a 
music-room where rec- 
ords were made. 
Thus the modern Edison 
phonograph made its de- 
but in 1888, in what was 
then called the "Improved" 
form . . . viz., the spring 
or electric motor-driven 
machine with the cylin- 
drical wax record — in fact, 
the regulation Edison 
phonograph. 



Frank L Dyer and Thomas C Martin, 
Edison His Life and Inventions, 1910 



60 



Recording George Boehme 
on the piano in the music 
room on the top floor of 
Building 5 at West Orange, 
are Albert Kipfer, left, and 
A. Theodore E. Wange- 
mann, the sound engi- 
neer. Records and cylin- 
der phonographs, such as 
the Amberola, were sold 
door to door in some 
places. 



quality and was used in mining and railway devices. 
Some Edison batteries have been known to last a 
generation. He could well be proud of his handi- 
work. 

A foray into the world of building construction 
consumed his interest for a while. He wanted to 
utilize the then idle heavy machinery at Ogdens- 
burg. He converted it to manufacture cement and 
built a complex of factory buildings around the old 
lab entirely of reinforced concrete. He tried to in- 
terest the public in prefabricated, poured homes, 
remarkable structures which, when iron molds were 
removed, contained stairways, rooms, halls, cellars, 
and conduits — all of concrete. But the idea was too 
advanced for that day, and Edison gave it up. 

As he took up new experiments and invented 
various devices, Edison would form manufacturing 
companies. He started almost 200 companies and 
corporations. Today power production utilities 
across America bear his name in the fashion of 
Consolidated Edison of New York City. McGraw- 
Edison Corporation is the direct descendant of 
Thomas A. Edison Industries, Inc., and only in 1972 
did the corporation vacate the reinforced concrete 
production facilities around the red brick lab on 
Main Street in West Orange. And, of course, Gen- 
eral Electric traces its lineage to him. 

Through all the years of travail and failure which 
characterized many of Edison's quests at the West 
Orange lab, one invention, the phonograph, was 
always in various stages of development. Phono- 
graphs bearing the Edison name were refined there 
for 42 years from the earliest cylinder models to 
disc console models of remarkable fidelity for non- 
electronic devices. The competition was fierce dur- 
ing this time. Chichester Bell and Charles Tainter's 
Graphophone, Emile Berliner's Gramophone, the 
Victor Talking Machine Co.'s Victrola, and other 
devices were competing with Edison's phonograph. 
Edison's various models held the quality edge, but 
toward the end of his life the new processes and 
devices which he had resisted began to erode this 
predominance. 

Nonetheless, the phonograph served Edison the 
middle-aged and older man in much the same way 



61 



the stock printer served Edison the young man; it 
was like a steady job, always there, supporting him 
when a spectacular venture would fail or be only 
partially successful. Competition constantly 
forced an upgrading of the Edison product and 
kept lab personnel challenged and innovative for 
almost a half-century. And this omnipresent, 
close-knit interaction of research and manufac- 
turing exempified the most basic and perhaps most 
important Edison invention of all, the prototype 
modern industrial research laboratory. 



62 



E MADE SCIENCE SERVE 
Thomas A. Edison has been characterized as a lone 
wolf in post-Civil War America's technological 
revolution. Popular literature of his day tended to 
paint him in the colors of the rugged loner, sort of 
proto-Tom Swift, a frontiersman of science. In fact, 
this dramatic portrait is nonsense. 

As Josephson suggests, mathematician Norbert 
Wiener's description of Edison as a "transitional 
figure" in American science is much closer to the 
truth. Edison's organization of artisans, technicians, 
and trained scientific theoreticians became a model 
for the complex research laboratories of the 20th 
century. The development of the Edison inventions 
depended not on high insights alone but on the 
brainpower, sweat, and imagination of a highly 
motivated team. The team at the invention factory 
helped make the Edison name the popular and real 
equal of a Roosevelt, a Wilson, a Grant, a Pershing, 
a Ford, a Cobb, a Fairbanks. 

In his later years, Edison many times closed his 
mind to constructive criticism from his assistants. 
Edison got so he would not accept much of the ad- 
vice he received from his employees and even his 
sons. He became more crusty and withdrawn. The 
result was that the invention factory lost much of 
its relevance and fell back from the vanguard of 
American technology during the 20th century. Cre- 
ativity decreased as his visionary scope narrowed. 

Edison was no social reformer, but his concept 
of invention for useful and practical purposes, 
assisting in the alleviation of human labor and 
boredom, was a humanizing influence on American 
science. In subordinating invention to commercial 
and popular need, Edison advanced his own for- 
tunes and the quality of life in a nation of men, 
women, and children barely liberated from dawn- 
to-dusk labor in field, sweatshop, and kitchen. 

The needs of a people and a nation and his own 
almost mystical unquenchable obsession to create, 
to improve, and to build were Edison's taskmasters. 



63 




(^W 




Few men have ever worked harder and longer for 
any master anywhere. If he did not share the vir- 
ginal and pristine ethics of a Faraday or Henry in 
his approach to invention, he did worlds more than 
both men to bring increased pleasure and comfort 
to the people of his day. He made the business of 
inventing both productive and less hazardous 
through both the genius he debunked and through 
the hard work and sweat he claimed. 

And he put to rest forever the assertion of an 
earlier day that invention was a "divine accident." 



Edison examines the Pro- 
jecting Kinetoscope, or 
movie projector, in the 
library of his West Orange 
laboratory. 



POSTSCRIPT: THE EDISON SITES 
Thomas Edison's research laboratory in West 
Orange, N.J., was closed shortly after the inventor's 
death on October 18, 1931. The laboratory and 
Edison's home, Glenmont, were maintained for 
many years by Thomas A. Edison, Inc. From 1948 
until 1955, the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation 
administered the laboratory. 

On December 6, 1955, Glenmont became a na- 
tional, non-federally owned historic site. The lab- 
oratory was established as a national monument by 
President Eisenhower in 1956 after the property 
was donated to the Federal Government by Thomas 
A. Edison, Inc. Glenmont was given to the 
Government on July 22, 1959, by the McGraw- 
Edison Company and both areas were combined by 
an act of Congress on September 5, 1962, as 
Edison National Historic Site. 

The National Park Service, which administers the 
site, conducts tours of the laboratory buildings and 
Glenmont. The site has many Edison inventions on 
display, a massive collection of Edison notebooks 
and papers, a replica of the Black Maria motion 
picture studio, and numerous other memorabilia. 

Several other sites connected with Edison's 
early days and growth as an inventor are open to 
the public. 

The Milan, Ohio, house in which he was born on 
February 11, 1847, is preserved by the Edison Birth- 
place Association, Inc. Edison's father, Samuel, 
had the three-story, red-brick structure built on the 
side of a hill in the canal town in 1841. The house 
is furnished with many family pieces and contains 
some models of Edison's inventions. 

The Edison Winter Home and Botanical Gardens 
in Fort Myers, Fla., are maintained by the City of 
Fort Myers. In 1885 Edison purchased this 14-acre 
site mainly because of its natural source of bam- 
boo, which he used as filaments in some of his 
early incandescent light bulbs. Here Edison con- 
structed two houses, which he had prefabricated 
out of spruce in Maine, and a chemical laboratory. 
One house was used by the family and the other 
one by the guests, who usually had to stay for a 
month because they were dependent on the month- 



67 



ly boat to the then distant location. From 1885 until 
his death, Edison spent part of each winter at Fort 
Myers. Many years he stayed for five or six months. 
He carried out many of his natural rubber experi- 
ments here and at one time had 6,000 species of 
plants in the gardens. Today, the gardens contain 
more than 400 species. Tours are given of the 
houses, laboratory, office, museum, and gardens. 

By far the most complete collection of Edison 
material from his early creative life is at Greenfield 
Village in Dearborn, Mich. In 1927 Henry Ford re- 
created board-by-board the entire Menlo Park 
laboratory as a tribute to the man he idolized. 
Much of the material was moved from the original 
Menlo Park site, and a substantial collection of 
Edison's inventions, papers, and equipment is pre- 
served at Dearborn. Besides the main laboratory 
buildings and shops, Greenfield Village has several 
other buildings associated with Edison's life. Among 
these structures, some of which are reproductions, 
are: Sarah Jordon's boardinghouse, a phonograph 
experiment building from West Orange, the first 
Edison Illuminating Co. plant in Detroit, the origi- 
nal Fort Myers laboratory, the Ontario, Canada, 
farmhouse in which Edison's grandfather lived. 
Greenfield Village also contains houses, stores, 
laboratories, and shops of many leading American 
figures in the fields of manufacturing, transporta- 
tion, and agriculture. 

At the original site of the Menlo Park laboratory, 
the State of New Jersey operates a small museum 
and a 131-foot tower commemorating Edison. The 
tower, which was built of steel and Edison Portland 
Cement, is capped by a 14-foot-high replica of the 
first incandescent lamp. It is illuminated nightly. 



68 



FURTHER READINGS 



Bryan, George S. Edison: The Man and His Work. 
New York. 1926. 

Dickson, W. K. L. and Antonia. The Life and Inven- 
tions of Thomas Alva Edison. Piccadilly. 1894. 

Dyer, Frank L, and Thomas C. Martin. Edison: His 
Life and Inventions. 2 vols. New York. 1910. 

Ford, Henry. Edison As I Knew Him. New York. 
1930. 

Gelatt, Roland. The Fabulous Phonograph. New 
York. 1955. 

Hendricks, Gordon. The Edison Motion Picture 
Myth. Berkeley. 1961. 

Hendricks, Gordon. The Kinetoscope: America's 
First Commercially Successful Motion Picture 
Exhibitor. New York. 1966. 

Jehl, Francis. Menlo Park Reminiscences. 3 vols. 
Dearborn. 1936. 

Josephson, Matthew. Edison: A Biography. New 
York. 1959. 

Lewis, Floyd E. The Incandescent Light. New York. 
1961. 

Martin, Thomas C. Forty Years of Edison Service. 
1922. 

Miller, Francis T. Thomas A. Edison: An Inspiring 
Story for Boys. Chicago. 1940. 

North, Sterling. Young Thomas Edison. Boston. 
1958. 

Ramsaye, Terry. A Million and One Nights: A His- 
tory of the Motion Picture. New York. 1926. 

Read, Oliver, and Walter L. Welch. From Tin Foil 
to Stereo. 1959. 

Rosanoff, M. A. "Edison in His Laboratory," 
Harpers Magazine. Sept. 1932. 



69 



Simonds, William A. Edison: His Life, His Work, 
His Genius. New York. 1934. 

Tate, Alfred O. Edison's Open Door. New York. 
1938. 



Passages in the book from Francis Jehl's Menlo 
Park Reminiscences are used with the permission 
of fhe Edison Institute The passage from Francis T 
Miller's Thomas A Edison An Inspiring Story for 
Boys, is used with the permission of Holt. Rinehart. 
and Winston. Inc 

Nearly all the photographs in this book are from 
the collection at Edison National Historic Site in 
West Orange. N J A grant from the Eastern 
National Park and Monument Association helped 
cover the cost of making prints from negatives in 
the park's files The photographs of the stock 
ticker and the vote recorder on page 8 and the 
filaments on pages 18 and 21 come from the 
collections of Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford 
Museum in Dearborn, Mich The photographs of 
Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel F B Morse on 
' U page 10 are from the Library of Congress 



As the Nation's principal conservation agency, the 
Department of the Interior has basic responsibili- 
ties for water, fish, wildlife, mineral, land, park, and 
recreational resources. Indian and Territorial affairs 
are other major concerns of America's "Depart- 
ment of Natural Resources." The Department works 
to assure the wisest choice in managing all our 
resources so each will make its full contribution to 
a better United States — now and in the future. 

United States Department of the Interior 
Rogers C. B. Morton, Secretary 

National Park Service 
Ronald H. Walker, Director 



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